But the federal statute is amateur hour when compared to Vermont's Act 64. Both The Wall Street Journal and National Review address the absurdity of the law -- and the fact that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled it Constitutional.
From the Journal:
This law doesn't just limit speech. It also creates a Byzantine set of rules that will have political operates from all camps peering over everyone's shoulder, in search of anything that can be counted as an expense. An army of regulators saying show me the money will be the only way to ensure that every candidate adheres to the extreme spending limits. Every campaign will have to be scrutinized down to the nanosecond an ad runs, the minutes a volunteer gives a candidate or the value of a borrowed car to make a campaign trip.
"If a citizen uses his or her residence as a place at which a candidate and the candidate's supporters sometimes meet to plan campaign efforts, buy stamps for invitations to the gatherings, and provide snacks and soft drinks for those who attend, then the value of the rooms and the items purchased"--like pencils and paper, Pepsis and chips--must be counted towards the spending limit, Judge Winter said in his dissent. So must "the value of the mileage driven by the candidate and other supporters to the meetings." So must the value of the use of the residence's phone to make a local call, and the proportionate time spent sending an e-mail from a home computer, however that will be calculated.
And since all these costs count against spending limits, candidates must keep meticulous records for years or risk being stricken from the ballot for breaking the law.
You and I cannot take an interest in someone's campaign, talk over the phone about it, send letter to some friends, and have coffee and donuts for 20 people to talk about a campaign. To do so would count against a candidate's limit. Therefore, the candidate must have a firm hand in controlling every single event that could be construed to help his campaign. From phone calls to a short drive to mail a campaign letter, there'll be no room for spontaneous citizen participation. Of course, this amounts to suppressing political activity and silencing the "regular people" Vermont supposedly cares so much about.
It's the last paragraph that was particularly troubling -- and it makes the law completely unenforceable. But the scariest thing is that the court actually ruled this law constitutional. The legal gymnastics that the court has to go through to come to this sort of conclusion.
On a related note: The Second Circuit Court of Appeals isn't the only court nowadays that seems to have difficulties with the plain wording of the First Amendment. While the federal court has a problem with the concept of "freedom of speech," the San Francisco Superior Court has problems with the concept of "freedom of association."
The San Francisco court, by a unanimous vote, is requiring judges not to associate with the Boy Scouts because of the Scouts' prohibition of openly-homosexual scout leaders.
From columnist Debra Saunders:
Brad Dacus of the Pacific Justice Institute is convinced that if the judges pull this off, religion is next.
No way, (Angela) Bradstreet (president of the Bar Association of San Francisco) countered. Women, for example, may not be able to be Catholic priests, but they can attend church services. There's no reason to target religion. But when I asked Bradstreet, who is a lesbian, how she would feel standing before a Muslim judge from an anti-homosexual mosque, she answered, "You have to start somewhere."
So maybe religion is next.
Boy Scouts first. Catholics later.
Bradstreet added: "Under that argument, we shouldn't have ethics rules at all. We should just say that judges should be able to join whatever organizations they want."
What a novel idea, freedom of association. Maybe someone could write a law about it.
Couple these incidents with the recent pledge of allegiance decision, and it's amazing that there is any respect left for the court system.